While some of these prompts may seem more limiting than others, in truth, they are all fairly open to your interpretation. That said, don’t push it! Keep the broad topic in mind and don’t stray too far from it. Also, remember the purpose of your essay: you need to demonstrate some crucial aspects of your personality, maturity, and intellect while telling an interesting story about yourself.
Here are the Common App prompts for 2017-18 and some ideas for how to start thinking about them:
1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
Is there something you mentioned on your application that is central to your
identity, on which you would like to elaborate? Is there something that you
want to tell admissions officers that did not fit anywhere else on your
application? Here is your chance!
2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
This prompt can be tricky, but don’t pass over it
too quickly. We all experience obstacles, even if they don’t cause outright
failure. But if you choose this prompt, you need to put a positive spin on it.
Notice the reference to what you “learned from the experience.” Make sure that
you explain how this experience made you a stronger, more thoughtful,
compassionate, or insightful person. Tell admissions officers that you learn
from your past mistakes and failures and you’re a better person because of
- when you experienced a challenge, setback, or failure
- how it affected you
- what you learned from it.
3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
This prompt can be a great one for students who
fight for human rights or who have made change in their schools through student
government, but an excellent answer to this prompt can be on a smaller scale as
well. Perhaps you stood up for someone who was being bullied. Or maybe you
spoke up in class even though your views were different than those of your
- tell the story of when you challenged a belief or idea
- explain what prompted you to speak up, act, or change your mind
- explain what happened after your questioned/challenged the belief or idea.
4. Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma - anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
As noted in the prompt, this essay can have a
variety of answers. Perhaps you want to write about the fact that your school
was not recycling plastic bottles. Perhaps you want to write about your
experience being excluded from a clique at school. Or maybe you want to write
about something somewhat larger like finding homes for the homeless animals in
your community. You just need to be able to cite a problem that is meaningful
to you, explain why it is meaningful, and then offer a potential solution or
describe what you did to remedy the problem.
5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
You may want to avoid writing about an obvious,
common event for this essay. Many admissions officers have read countless
essays about getting one’s driver’s license or having one’s Bat Mitzvah. Unless
you’re fairly common event has a unique twist, try to write about something
6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
Here’s a prompt that cuts to the heart of the
matter: what are you obsessed with? Your answer to this prompt will show
admissions officers what you are truly passionate about, why you find things
engaging, and what you do when you want to learn something.
7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.
This prompt makes it
easy for you to reuse something you’ve written for another type of application,
but that doesn’t mean this is the easiest prompt to choose. Sometimes writing
without limits is more challenging that writing a response to something
If these musings here aren’t enough to get you started, you may want to reach out for help. Our writing experts have lots of tools and tricks to get you thinking and writing, and the sooner you start brainstorming, the better!